Carlsborg residents uneasy about sewer proposal
by AMANDA WINTERS
Clallam County officials continue to be challenged by Carlsborg residents as they move forward to find funding for a proposed sewer system.
On Oct. 5 a group of six Carlsborg residents sent a letter with 40 questions regarding the proposed sewer system to the Clallam County board of commissioners, Clallam County Senior Planner Carol Creasey and Public Utility District commissioner Will Purser.
The questions ranged from why Carlsborg is designated an urban growth area to asking how much property owners would be assessed for the sewer system. The authors requested written responses with supporting documentation for each of the questions.
The proposed sewer system has been a contentious issue since Carlsborg was found to be noncompliant with the Growth Management Act in 2008, because there weren't plans or funding for sewer facilities to support the mixed uses of the UGA. Though the ruling - which halted development in Carlsborg through the resulting interim controls - is still in the appeals process in court, county officials are also establishing plans and looking for funding for a wastewater treatment and water reuse project.
Susanne Severeid, one of the authors of the letter, said she hasn't received any answers to the 40 questions but did receive an e-mail from Creasey stating the county and PUD were working on a response.
'A lot of moving parts'
Creasey said she thinks some people still don't understand why the sewer system is being considered and what's more, some don't even realize they live in a UGA.
A UGA is a designated zoning area that serves to direct substantial growth within its boundaries and preserve outlying areas for low-density uses such as rural residential use and agriculture, according to the Washington State Growth Management Act.
Since much of the 560-acre Carlsborg UGA has remained undeveloped since it was adopted in 2000, it is easy for people not to understand they live in a UGA with Growth Management Act regulations, she said.
Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger said there are "a lot of moving parts" to the Carlsborg sewer issue, including zoning regulations, health considerations and groundwater problems.
"To answer the questions in a written format would take a lot of time and would not be the best way to explain those complexities," he said.
Additionally, some of the questions are contradictory, he said.
Tharinger and Creasey both expressed a desire to meet face-to-face with the Carlsborg residents to address the questions.
Creasey said she has contacted a few of the residents by phone and by mail to try to set up a meeting.
Concerns about cost
The Oct. 5 letter asked a handful of questions about how much the sewer system would cost residents and expressed a concern about a substantial financial burden being placed on residents.
Tharinger said when the county first looked into the potential assessment to property owners - without factoring in grants - the public reaction was disastrous. Because of that the county does not want to make any projections about the cost until officials have a better understanding of what the assessments could be based on funding received, he said.
Creasey said the project was placed on the preliminary draft list for funding from the Public Works Trust Fund, which would provide $10 million in the form of a 0.5-percent interest loan with a five-year deferment and 30 years to pay it off.
The list will go before state legislators and the governor for final approval and the county will find out the determination in May, she said.
The August approval of a facilities plan by the Clallam County PUD also will help the project get funding, she said.
The plan will be reviewed by the Department of Ecology and the Department of Health.
The next step is the formation of a local utility district. So far signatures for 52 parcels in the UGA have been collected and more petitions still are circulating, Creasey said.
The local utility district being considered is based on funding making it economically feasible for residents, she said. If there isn't enough funding available to make it reasonable, the PUD may form a district but it won't build the sewer system, Creasey said.
Additionally, the county has set aside $1 million for hardship cases where residents can't afford the assessment, she said.
Tharinger said with new state regulations requiring enhanced septic systems and annual inspections, it may be less expensive for residents to join in a sewer system than to replace their septic system.
Creasey said the new septic systems typically cost between $20,000 and $25,000.
"They'd have to finance it themselves," Tharinger said, adding it would be cheaper for people with old septic
systems to hook up to the sewer system.
But people with newer septic systems that are up to standards likely wouldn't have to hook up to the new sewer system for a long period of time, he said.
Without funding and plans for a sewer system, the Carlsborg UGA will remain out of compliance with the Growth Management Act Hearing Board's 2008 ruling and ultimately will revert to a rural or "limited area of more intensive rural development."
If that happens, existing nonconforming uses ultimately will be phased out and eliminated and it will return to a rural setting, Clallam County Chief Civil Deputy Douglas Jensen said Nov. 8 at a Clallam County commissioners' work session.
George Hutchinson, of Sequim, told the commissioners at the work session they have a duty to be stewards of the economy and he thinks they should leave Carlsborg alone and pay more attention to the empty storefronts in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks.
Don Butler, who owns a business in the Carlsborg Industrial Park, responded that people need to be aware of how many jobs businesses in Carlsborg provide.
According to a business survey, there are at least 1,045 jobs in the Carlsborg UGA, he said. The salaries paid to those workers add up to more than $20 million a year, he said.
"I think that makes a strong case for the county to support this," he said. "Those are jobs already on the ground, in place today, and they need to be supported."
Butler added not only would his business be phased out if the UGA were to fail but so would the property purchased by the Clallam County Fire District 3 for training.
"That is public money tied up (in the UGA)," he said.
A public hearing on extending the interim controls will be held Dec. 14 in the commissioners' meeting room at the Clallam County Courthouse.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.